03 October 2014

John Stuart Mill presages the doctrine of sustainability

Here, I think we have (although perhaps not in the clearest possible form), one of the earliest proclamations of the principle of sustainability, including as a necessary corollary reasonable limits to economic and population growth, given the carrying capacity of the World's environments:
If the Earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compel them to it.
--John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (1848).

Mill was also likely the first significant political philosopher to strongly advocate complete political equality for women.

This is quite topical, in that Naomi Klein has just published a polemic («This Changes Everything»), arguing that the mandate for unlimited growth which is inherent in a capitalist economy is literally killing our world. Mill, interestingly, started out his career arguing (based on Jeremy Bentham's somewhat simplistic Utilitarian principles) for free markets, but came to believe that economies must be organized cooperatively and that "the greatest good for the greatest number" required that economic activity be regulated and democratically organized.

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